If you'd like to comment on my work, you can write me at steve(at sign)steve-hamlin.com. I welcome legitimate comments.

March 24, 2009

Thoughts on Writing

Filed under: Cycling,General,Opinion,Philosophy — Steve Hamlin @ 8:22 pm

Waxing poetic on a sunny late winter afternoon.

A few weeks ago, on a warm Sunday afternoon–warm for February in New England that is–I took a bike ride.  I rode east, out of the still snow-bound hill-towns, to Westfield, to enjoy the clearer roads and slightly warmer temperatures.

As I rode, the cold, crisp air purged my lungs of the staleness of the long indoor winter, and the blood pulsing through my arteries scrubbed the cobwebs from my mind.  Freed from stress and the shackles of confinement, my thoughts probed forgotten corners and recesses, just as my body was rediscovering muscles that had been lying dormant.

No matter the season, a bike ride always stimulates my thoughts.  I don’t know if it’s the air, or the circulation, or the endorphins, but I often have some of my best, most creative ideas while I’m riding.

On this occasion, I began thinking about writing.  I’ve recently begun contributing a column to a local monthly magazine (my weak excuse for the lack of posts here lately).  This Sunday followed the completion of a several-day-long process of revising and polishing the first of my articles.  My success put me in a reflective mood.

I’m not sure what planted the thought in my mind, but I found myself comparing writing to gardening–a pursuit that I have no interest in.  It may have been the lawns and plantings that were emerging from the receding snow-banks.  Or it may have just been the promise of the coming spring season, inspired by my invigorating ride.

Whatever it was, once planted, I found myself intrigued by the idea.

I know almost intuitively that writing, or at least my writing usually needs to mature, to ripen, before it’s worth anything.  I’ve leaned on the rewrite to smooth out the jagged edges of my first drafts, and to illuminate the thoughts that I’ve developed incompletely or not at all.

In the metaphor that developed in my mind as I rode, I saw my writing growing wildly, with thoughts crawling across the ground like the unruly vines of a squash plant, or words filling every available space like the weeds that spring up between the neat rows of carrots and peas, needing cultivation to fulfill the garden’s promise.  I likened the clever wordplay of a passing phrase, or beautiful description of some insignificant dongle to the showy flower that must be clipped to allow the less flashy, but sturdier supporting plant to thrive.

As with most pursuits, my best writing often just happens.  In those rare cases, revision is more a matter of tweaking than major surgery.  Those are the stories that either spring from a topic that I’ve grown comfortable with, or the ones that develop almost independently of me, as if I am conduit, rather than creator.

Most often, though, inspiration begins the process, but hard work and whatever craftsmanship I can bring to the task complete it.

Gardeners will probably find fault with my imperfect metaphor, but it was a useful and entertaining way for me, the devout non-gardener to examine my craft.  Like topiary, effective writing can be achieved by allowing an idea to develop organically, then pruning it to expose the form hidden within the tangle.

My thoughts were soon broken.  I descended the small hill that delivered me back to the highway west.  Making the turn, the cold northwest wind woke me out of my reverie.

My ride, so enjoyable in the sun and clear roads of the valley, ended in the fatigue and cold of a dusky afternoon and ten miles into a headwind.  Back home, I showered and settled in for the night feeling the satisfaction that a hard ride leaves me with.

All text and images © Steve Hamlin
Powered by WordPress